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Singapore parties on 50th Independence Day

August 9, 2015

The Southeast Asian nation is commemorating half a century since it gained freedom from the Malaysian federation. Citizens are celebrating Singapore's rise as an economic powerhouse in Asia.

50 Jahre Singapur
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Rahman

Celebrations kicked off on Sunday morning in Singapore where people gathered to mark 50 years of freedom. As fighter jets wizzed through the sky, nationalist songs played and leaders made speeches to the more than 250,000 people gathered to acknowledge the day.

"At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel at how far we have come," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised message. In another message a day earlier, Lee said the festivities would mark "how we turned vulnerabilities into strengths."

Lee is the son of Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away earlier this year. The country's first prime minister is to be honored in Sunday's parade which is set to include around 2000 marchers, 50 military aircraft and 177 tanks. The procession will be capped off with a massive fireworks display, choreographed and funded by the government.

Staatsbegräbnis für Singapurs Gründervater Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew was intolerant of political dissentImage: Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Former colonial ruler Britain is expected to be represented by Prince Andrew and Foreign Secretary Philipp Hammond. Other guests included the prime ministers of Malaysia and Thailand, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and Indonesia's President Jusuf Kalla. Officials from China, Australia and Japan were also invited.

Challenges for Lee

Singapore became a republic on August 9, 1965, after being ejected from the Malaysian federation. The founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, created the People's Action Party that has ruled the country since independence and is known to have contributed immensely in turning Singapore into one of the world's richest countries.

50 Jahre Singapur
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Woon

However, the party is also under criticism for silencing free speech and detaining political opponents. According to Reporters without Borders' 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Singapore is ranked at 153 of 180 countries.

Tolerance towards dissent may be one of the biggest challenges Prime Minister Lee faces in general elections, scheduled to take place on September 12. The leader will also have to address rising costs, which have made Singapore one of the world's most expensive countries and the increasing influx of foreign labor, that has many citizens worried.

Lee's People's Action Party suffered its worst results in 2011, but still holds 80 out of 87 seats in the country's parliament.

mg/jlw (AP, AFP)